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VOA-TV Interview with Richard Bush - 2003-04-21


VOA-TV Host David Borgida talks with Richard Bush.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us, from the Brookings Institution here in Washington, Senior Fellow Richard Bush. Mr. Bush, no relation to our current President, is Director of the Brookings Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies. Thanks so much, Mr. Bush, for being with us today.

MR. BUSH
It's a pleasure to be with you, David.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk first about the North Korean situation. How do you think we are now approaching this?

Is there some level of optimism that perhaps this concern and controversy over the North Korean nuclear program can be at least resolved diplomatically or are you not so hopeful, sir?

MR. BUSH
I think it's premature to make a judgment on that score. The good news is that China got more active on this issue and pulled together this tripartite meeting.

The good news is also that the United States was willing to attend and that North Korea was willing to attend.

But this is the beginning of a very long bargaining process, and this stage that we are about to begin is really talks about talks and nothing more.

MR. BORGIDA
How important is China in this process?

MR. BUSH
China is very important. It does not have as much leverage over North Korea as some people might think, but it does have more leverage than anybody else.

China concluded at the beginning of March that the situation was becoming dangerous and was a threat to Chinese interests, and so it became more aggressive in trying to bring the situation under control.

MR. BORGIDA
Mr. Bush, there has been an awful lot of reporting and commentary and speculation on why North Korea is open to these multilateral talks when before it was not.

Much of the speculation, at least in official Washington, is that the military effort to disarm Saddam Hussein in Iraq had some incentive to Pyongyang to move in this direction. What are your thoughts about that?

MR. BUSH
I think that may have had some effect. I think Chinese pressure probably had some effect.

But, in addition, North Korea can tell itself and tell the world that these really aren't multilateral talks, that these are bilateral talks convened by China.

That's the way they're portraying it. If that helps them get to the table, that's good.

MR. BORGIDA
And the role, of course, of South Korea, how do you see that at this point?

MR. BUSH
South Korea has been arguing for some kind of dialogue between the United States and North Korea for some time. They too favor multilateral talks, because they have a lot at stake.

South Korea was a bit unhappy that they were excluded at this first stage. They very much want, and the United States wants, to get them into the talks as soon as possible.

MR. BORGIDA
Mr. Bush, just from a layman's standpoint, an average American might make a linkage between threats posed by terrorism, rightly or wrongly, Iraq, rightly or wrongly, and move ahead to North Korea.

In your view, is that a realistic concern, at least by some Americans and others in the West, that North Korea does pose, if this diplomacy does not work successfully, some kind of a real threat to the United States?

MR. BUSH
I think it does. If North Korea crosses the red line that the U.S. has drawn, and that is it truly begins reprocessing its spent fuel, it not only can increase the number of nuclear weapons it has at its disposal, but it can also sell the plutonium on the world market to rogue regimes or to terrorists.

That is a threat not just to its neighbors but to the entire world. And so the administration is correct to be concerned about this and try to head it off.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk for a moment, Mr. Bush, about China and the story regarding SARS, the disclosure that so many more people were infected by that disease than initially reported. What do you make of the political shakeup?

It has been described as highly unusual, if not rare, for Beijing to be doing this. What is your take on that?

MR. BUSH
I think the civilian leadership was losing control of the situation and they decided to do the only thing that they could do, which was to cut their losses.

So they changed their definition of a real case to bring it into line with international norms. That's one of the reasons the number has gone up.

It pushed the military to open up its hospitals and give an accurate accounting. And it fired a couple of officials to show that the government was serious.

MR. BORGIDA
Might this reflect, sir, a new openness on the part of the Chinese Government to these sorts of things in the future?

MR. BUSH
I don't hold out too much hope. This is more openness in the face of international criticism and international embarrassment. They lost control of the situation and are doing the only thing that they can to get some kind of control back.

MR. BORGIDA
Richad Bush, a senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution here in Washington, thanks for being with us.

MR. BUSH
My pleasure to do so.

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